Mental Health Article:

Managing ‘final details’ helps widowed spouses maintain control

by Jo Senters, Washington State Director
AARP

In addition to the grief and emotional upheaval caused by the death of a spouse, widowed survivors often face an array of sudden decisions they must make. Managing those final details, however, can help surviving spouses work through the grieving process and maintain control of their lives and their futures.

If you are among the nearly 1 million people who will lose a spouse this year, you may be faced with making many immediate financial and legal decisions. Familiarizing yourself with the following issues before you are forced to confront them may help you feel more in control of the situation.

Make funeral or memorial service arrangements.
The average cost of a traditional funeral is $4,600 and burial costs may add another $2,000 or more. The Social Security Administration and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provide small burial allowances; check with these agencies to see if you are eligible for allowances.
Find any important papers your husband or wife may have had.
These might include deeds, bankbooks, stock certificates, investment account statements and insurance policies.
Secure an ample number of certified copies of the death certificate.
Also, locate your marriage license, your spouse's birth certificate, military discharge papers, Social Security card, tax forms, and birth certificates of any minor children. These records are needed to establish claims for Social Security, life insurance or veteran's benefits.
Send written notification of your spouse’s death to the insurance company that insured him or her.
Each company needs a statement of claim and a death certificate before the surviving spouse can be paid. Keep copies of all correspondence. Discuss with your insurance agent any options you may have for how benefits might be paid out.
Contact your Social Security office to apply for any new benefits to which you may be entitled.
If your spouse was a veteran, apply for veteran's benefits at the nearest VA office.
Write a formal letter to your spouse’s employer, union or professional association.
Many of these organizations have insurance policies. You should also inquire about any 401(k), pension or company stock benefits. Keep copies of your letters.
Advise all creditors in writing, including issuers of credit cards, that your spouse has died.
If you have any loans, find out if they are insured. If you do not have credit in your name, it is a good idea to open an account for yourself before closing the accounts in your spouse's name.
Consult a lawyer.
Family and friends may be well meaning, but they are not legal experts. Find a lawyer you trust to help you with the will, estate and probate. Discuss fees before you engage any legal help.
Postpone any decisions that can be put off until you feel better emotionally.
Many widowed persons have found it best to delay major decisions - such as whether to sell a house - for at least one year.

The Healthy Aging Partnership - a coalition of 27 non-profit and public senior services agencies in the Puget Sound area, including AARP - can answer questions about these and other issues. Just call the toll-free, confidential information and assistance line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464) or visit our Web site at www.4elders.org.